Shane Robinson - a stupendous solar success

Cathie Roy/Associate Publisher / Staff writer
January 20, 2012 01:00 AM

Shane Robinson, Joanne Robinson and baby Zach Oliver Robinson at home in New Zealand.

Editor's note: This is the ninth in a series of stories about people who were raised on the Sunshine Coast who are making a successful mark in the world of their chosen vocations. Some are residents of the Coast while others have left to pursue their dreams.

Shane Robinson is in the process of casting a long shadow on the Earth through his company Powersmart Solar. A graduate of Elphinstone Secondary School in Gibsons, Robinson and his two partners, Dean Parchomchuk and Mike Bassett-Smith, were recently awarded a $7 million contract with the New Zealand government to change the power on three atolls from diesel to solar power.

In an email interview with Robinson, his obvious passion for the environment and the natural world were most evident. Reached on the evening of Dec. 23, as his wife Joanne went into labour with their first son, Zach, Robinson was most forthcoming on his hopes for the world.

He had fond memories of his days at Elphi and wrote of two teachers in particular who influenced him.

"Mr. Heffey was a great social studies teacher. His passion for his job and his students was an inspiration. Mr. Allegretti was also a great sciences teacher and I really enjoyed his classes (especially keeping tracking of how much chalk ended up on his face during a lecture)," Robinson shared.

After graduating from Elphi in 1997, Robinson went on to the University of Victoria. His field of study, design electrical engineering, heavily influenced his career choice. The co-op program created a passion in Robinson for alternate fuel choices.

He ultimately ended up in New Zealand when he and then girlfriend Joanne DePap reached a compromise on where in the world they wanted to live.

Originally from Armstrong, Joanne was living in Maui when Robinson graduated. Because of the lack of jobs in his field and the difficulty he would have had getting a work visa, moving to Hawaii was not in the cards for him. On the other hand, Joanne did not want to go back to Vancouver. The deciding factor that swayed the pair was the surfing and lifestyle, so off they went to the Southern Hemisphere.

The New Zealand government's commitment to Powersmart Solar made news in South Africa at the time of the United Nations climate talks in Durban last month.

If all goes as planned with the switch to solar power, the three tiny atolls located halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii will become the world leaders in the least reliability on fossil fuels.

By September of this year the solar system designed by Robinson's firm will provide 90 per cent of the atolls' energy needs, with the rest supplied by homemade coconut oil. The tiny New Zealand protectorates have the most to lose from climate change. The rising sea level threatens to swamp the atolls.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in Durban, the leader of the Tokelau micro-state (one of the three atolls) with a population of 1,500 people, said that his tiny country would become the number one leader in carbon emission savings and renewable energy in the world - a strategy that's not coming a moment too soon. According to the leader, his island is already suffering from extreme weather, storm surges, droughts and many other weather related calamities.

Lest we think that only tiny islands a world away will benefit by the technology offered by Powersmart Solar, Robinson is quick to extol the uses the power could have in B.C.

Right now we are dependent on hydro generation. But that could change in our favour, Robinson said.

"Most people don't know this, but B.C. is actually a net importer of electricity. During the night, the coal-fired stations in the U.S. have too much power and it takes too long to slow/shut them down. We pretty much take the electricity off of them for free. During the day, they have trouble meeting the peak demand, so we open up the dams and sell them electricity at an exorbitant rate. Additional grid-connected solar capacity in B.C. would allow us to sell more power to the U.S. during the day, making BC Hydro more money and ultimately keeping B.C.'s rate for consumed power low," Robinson explained.

The other benefit to our province would be a reduced dependence on expensive diesel fuel by remote B.C. communities.

Robinson with his partners started his company out of his living room and their garage in 2007. He's thrilled with their success to date.

"To see our project mentioned on an international stage is huge validation in the process we've made and the work we have done. Hopefully this is the first project of many to get international attention," he said.

For his proud parents, Christine and Wayne Robinson who live in Gibsons, there isn't much question that will happen.

For more information, go to the website www.powersmartsolar.co.nz and see how a Coaster is changing our world.


© Coast Reporter

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